What lights are the best for auto detailing?

Have you ever detailed your car in your garage then the next day pulled it out in the sunlight just to see all kinds of missed spots and streaks from the wax? Well I have, and fortunately that was years ago before I ever started Finishing Touch Auto. I’m sure you know why this happens. Most garages have just enough light to find your way inside the house, and if you’re lucky you might have enough light to see inside your toolbox. The fact is, sunlight is 50-100,000 lumens… per square yard! So with this in mind, we are on a mission; not to create as much light as the sun (we know it’s impossible, we’ve tried), but to emulate the effect the sun has on a detail job.

Needless to say, after several years we’ve invested thousands of dollars in lighting solutions. Some got the job done, some did the job impressively well, and some went straight to the trash can. Each type of light has it’s own purpose. If our goal was to just figure out how to get as much light in an area as possible it wouldn’t be a topic of discussion. We’ll go over the lights we use for coating, RIDS (random isolated deep scratches), swirls, overall lighting, and interior lighting.

First, we must get the general shop lighting in order. This is where we look for lumens per dollar. In my shop we have 20ft peaks in the ceiling so we opted for T5 high bay lights. These 8 bulb fixtures put out 40,000 lumens of light and light up a large area quite efficiently. When dealing with ceilings lower than 15ft we recommend using t8 lights, these 6 bulb fixtures are quite effective in lower ceiling applications.

For spotting RIDS we have found that solid diffused LED lights work the best. We use these integrated 4ft LED lights in our shop. We mount them vertically on the walls and, in areas where possible, we link them together to form long lines all the way to the ceiling. We also mount these lights vertically on our interior detailing carts to help light up the interior from the side. This helps with door panels and the sides of the seats and dash.

For detecting swirls and micro-marring, we use a variety of lights. These cordless LED work lights work great, can go a whole day without recharging (obviously we don’t leave them on all day), and provide a good color temperature for detecting swirls on a variety of paint colors, if using these make sure to double check finish work with a higher powered light. Another handheld light we use is the Rechargeable LED Flashlight, with 950 Lumen output it provides a steady focused stream of light for detecting micro marring you can’t even see in direct sunlight. But who wants to pick up a flashlight to check their work every 5 minutes? We’ve got a solution for that too. We build light stands using cable ties to secure 3 of these 30 Watt LED lights to a photography light stand on castors.

All these lights help with interior detailing, but we often find that sunlight always shows a missed spot or two. Jason Barker of Fresh Start Detail in Beaverton, Oregon, designed these amazing interior work lights. We’ve tested lots of interior lights and underhood lights for this purpose and this is the only one that puts out enough light to show every spec of dirt in the car. One of our favorite features is the length of the unit and the attachment straps, they are designed so that the doors can be closed without damaging the paint. A must have for any shop doing interior detailing.

Hopefully this list helps with your detail light needs. We could go on for days on this topic, so please understand that this isn’t an all inclusive list. Feel free to call Ryan at 971-599-3823. We will soon be releasing a video showing each type of light and how we use them in our shop so that you can better understand the topic. Subscribe to our youtube channel to stay up to date on this topic.